A parachute is a device used to slow down the extent of a fall by trapping air moving upwards in a large fabric to prevent it from moving downward quickly. Parachutes are sometimes used by the military to drop supplies and/or troops safely into enemy territory, and in such sports as skydiving and BASE jumping.
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with first conceiving of the parachute circa 1495, in the form of cloth material pulled over a pyramidal frame. The first actual parachute jump by a person was possibly Fauste Veranzio in 1617 who jumped from a tower in Venice using a parachute similar to da Vinci's design. In the late 1700s, several hot air balloonists were in the forefront of developing the parachute as we know it today. These include the first emergency use of a parachute (by Jean Pierre Blanchard in 1785, to escape his exploding hot air balloon), and the first jump with a parachute made of cloth without a frame (by Andrew Garnerin in 1797), and cutting small holes in the parachute canopy to limit severe oscillations (also by Garnerin at the suggestion of a French astronomer).
The first jump from an airplane was claimed by either Grant Morton or Albert Berry in 1911 or 1912. Up until that point, parachute jumps were done from hot air balloons, and from fixed objects such as towers.
Modern parachutes used by people fall into two broad types: the conventional round parachute, and the rectangular or ram-air parachute. The latter was developed in the 1960s and began to see widespread use in sport parachuting at the end of the 1970s. The military still uses round chutes, which are better for dropping troops at a given location. Rectangular chutes, which are much easier to control and provide more forward movement and steerability, are nowadays almost universally used in sport parachuting.
Other modern parachute designs not falling into the above categories also exist, for specialty use in such areas as pilot chutes for vehicle stabilization at supersonic speeds and space vehicle recovery.